Thursday, December 20, 2007

Becoming the change we want to see

This was my column yesterday. Sorry for the late post; am in the middle of the Christmas rush, which has been compounded by yearend reports at work and the usual end-of-term requirements at school. Sigh. Immediately after the column came out, I got a text message from a friend who put me to task for not pointing out something else which she thinks the Brothers should focus on if they intend to live up to their role as formators and educators: Call on their alumni to pay the right taxes and to pay the legal minimum wages.

There are many reasons, both spiritual and traditional, why Christmas should be a welcome respite. At the very least, the spirit of goodwill should be enough reason for people to be generally nicer, kinder and perhaps more tolerant of other people’s shortcomings, both perceived and real. It should be enough reason to allow some people some slack, even for just a short spell.

Unfortunately, the proverbial Christmas cheer seems to be running late this year. I don’t know about you, but I personally still have to imbibe the much-vaunted spirit of the season. Judging by the mad rush at the department stores during the weekend where the queues were unusually long (I was told it was sheer bedlam at Divisoria and 168), it seems I am not the only person who is running behind the Christmas bandwagon.

But I do note that we seem to be going through some kind of hiatus from the usual political turbulence that has become a regular fixture in our lives in the last three years. The last two weeks have been generally uneventful, which is why media entities that thrive on negative news and political sleaze are obviously having a difficult time mining the dregs and trying to come up with something, anything, to spice up their reportage.

I figured this is a good time to lend space to the De La Salle Brothers of the Philippines who, very recently, came out with a thought-provoking statement expressing concern over what they referred to as “continued moral degeneration affecting the government, [and] which has spawned widespread despair and numerous social and political problems.”

In writing the statement, the Brothers invoked their role in Philippine society as “educators and formators.”

I am aware that a lot of people question the social relevance of the Brothers’ role in Philippine society considering that De La Salle schools in the Philippines, unlike those in other countries, cater to the rich and are hardly within the means of even the middle class. One e-mail I received from a noted businessman (who is obviously not a La Salle alumnus) labeled the Brothers’ statement as hypocritical since in his words, “if the Brothers really want to walk the talk, they can give up the huge profits that their institutions rake up every year to subsidize public institutions.”

However, this is a phenomenon that is not limited to the De La Salle Brothers. Practically all religious orders in the Philippines that have abrogated unto themselves the role of Christian formators and educators do not serve the poor, or at least directly. My take on the matter is that these factors should not deflect from the message that they want to make. In short, let’s not shoot the messenger.

In their statement, the Brothers said they were alarmed and ashamed that the situation in the country had worsened from July 2006 when they first issued a public statement regarding the political situation in the country. The Brothers cited the following “signs of moral disintegration:”
• The escalating number of acts of violence against journalists, leftists and members of the legal opposition which, according to a report of the UN Human Rights Council representative, have been perpetrated by some elements in the military;

• Unresolved anomalies in government, including the aborted ZTE-NBN deal and the fertilizer scam, which involve billions of pesos in public funds;

• The large amounts of cash distributed in brown bags to some lawmakers at MalacaƱang just as impeachment moves were being initiated and firmed up in Congress and the facile efforts to hide the truth about their origins and purpose;

• Concerted efforts among some lawmakers and government officials to block attempts at establishing truth and securing accountability;

• The corruption of the electoral system as manifested in various anomalies related to the last national election.

It is difficult to nitpick with these signs because they are facts. However, and this is my main beef with the statement of the Brothers, these are not the only major “signs of moral disintegration” in the country. My problem with the statement is that it lays the blame squarely on the government alone and in so doing, exculpates others who are just as guilty. I know that some narrow-minded people would interpret this as efforts to obfuscate accountability. I insist that any attempts to criticize must be accompanied with self-criticism as well. So, sadly, the general tone of the statement—sharing accountability and—falls a little flat.

However, the Brothers did make an unequivocal stand against unconstitutional means of fixing the problems of this country by asserting that “we do not condone military adventurism for it is inconsistent with the basic democratic values we hold dear.”

The Brothers lamented the “degree to which many Filipinos have become desensitized to the stench of corruption because of the unending stream of government-related scams, coverups and scandals. The unwillingness of the public to engage in peaceful public exercises of moral outrage and to support calls for government accountability bespeak a weary cynicism and loss of hope in all possibility of meaningful change that is especially alarming for us as educators.”

“This retreat from civic responsibility bodes ill for the future,” the statement warned. The Brothers asserted what they thought was the current generation’s greatest crime: “Rob[bing] our people, especially our youth, of the conviction that noble ideals are worth every sacrifice and that moral principles must prevail in public life.”

What makes the Brothers’ statement worthy of consideration is that while it also hues very closely to the usual anti-GMA advocacy without being very explicit about it (some wags claim this kind of advocacy does not sit well with certain alumni groups), the general tone of the call for action is something a little more realistic: Beginning the change within us.

The statement made specific appeals to sectors of society, essentially urging them to live up to certain social expectations. It appealed to teachers and parents to do their parenting jobs better. It appealed to government employees to resist corruption. It appealed to artists, members of the media, military, etc., “to act now to make real the change they want to see.”

We should become the change that we want to see in this country rather than just expect others to do it for us. The logical place where the necessary changes can happen is within each one of us. If we come to think about it, isn’t that what the message of Christmas is really about?

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